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Social Welfare Bill 2012: Committee Stage (Continued)

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 786 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh: Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh] It also provides Deputies in the Chamber now with an opportunity to speak at an early stage about the other provisions in the Bill, including the cut in the respite care grant. While there has been some debate on that issue thus far, it is hoped there will be further discussion on it.

Few people, including those in the media, have to date commented on other changes such as the cut in entitlement to jobseeker's benefit by three months for some people because they might not qualify for jobseeker's allowance given that it is to become a means tested payment. This will affect people who have paid into the social insurance scheme on the understanding that they would get the benefit for the period allowed. We have heard much about the other changes. It is a pity that the Minister proceeded with the cut to child benefit for a second year prior to publication of the report which the she indicated she was eagerly awaiting. The Bill also provides for changes to voluntary contributions and the farm assist payments, which are major changes that should not be included in this Bill.

Welfare is supposed to protect and support people. Rather than supporting people, this legislation undermines their ability to survive out of poverty. The Minister mentioned those at risk of poverty. It will be interesting at the end of next year to see how many people have been put at risk of poverty or are in poverty because of the provisions contained in this Bill. There are a number of other changes which, if time permitted, I would have suggested be included. The Bill was published on Monday last. I thank the officials for the briefing they provided to my staff on Monday, despite the time restrictions under which they operate. While I am somewhat understanding of the restrictions under which the Minister operates, she is the master of her own timetable. There is no reason for the Bill being rushed through in this way other than the timetable set by the Minister for the commencement of some of its provisions from 1 January rather than the end of March or April. In the past, social welfare changes came into effect in April and, often, June. Not all changes took effect from 1 January. This timetable has been set by the Minister. I regret that this Bill is bring rushed through, which is also obvious from some of the ministerial amendments which propose major changes to the Bill. The Minister, perhaps, decided that as the Government is getting away with everything else people would not notice their inclusion in the Bill.

Deputy Willie O'Dea: Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea I take this opportunity to again record my grievous annoyance at the way this Bill is being dealt with by Government. There is no reason ample time could not have been provided for us to debate these amendments in detail. What we are discussing are wide-ranging changes which will impact hugely on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, yet less than one hour tonight and two hours tomorrow has been provided to debate them, which is regrettable. Regardless of the timetable in terms of these provisions having to come into effect on 1 January, we could have spent all day tomorrow and Friday on Committee Stage. I do not understand the Government's unseemly haste to have Second Stage of the Finance (Local Property Tax) Bill 2012 done and dusted by 6 p.m. on Friday evening. The Revenue Commissioners will only begin implementing this measure some time in May or June next year, yet Second Stage of that legislation must be completed by 6 p.m. on Friday evening and Committee Stage is to be taken next Tuesday. This is clearly being done for political reasons, which I regret. It flies in the face of all the promises we heard about the new politics to be introduced following the election of this Government in terms of the way business in this House is done and the use of the guillotine. It does not appear new to me.

I do not have any strong views in regard to these amendments. As stated by Deputy Ó Snodaigh, the Bill deals with more than social welfare. Perhaps the wording of the Bill would be improved if these amendments were accepted. I am not sure. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to same about them.

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton): Information on Joan Burton Zoom on Joan Burton I do not propose to accept these amendments. I am informed by the office of the Parliamentary Counsel that the Title, namely, the Social Welfare Bill 2012, is sufficient in terms of the various provisions therein. The proposed amendments, including those in the name of Deputy Ó Snodaigh, are also covered by the Title. In the circumstances, there is no need to include a reference to "Miscellaneous Provisions" in the Title.

A reference to "pensions" in the Title is only required where there are amendments to the Pensions Act 1990 included in the Bill, namely, changes to occupational and private pension schemes. The amendments to the social welfare pension schemes included in this Bill are encompassed in the general Title "Social Welfare Bill". As no amendments to the Pensions Act are proposed in this Bill, a reference to "pensions" in the Title is not required.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh made specific reference to a number of amendments, which I hope we will have an opportunity to discuss in some detail later. There is a proposal in the Bill regarding the deduction of payments through the Post Office household budgeting facility. I would like to explain this to Deputy Ó Snodaigh, with whom I recall having a discussion on this issue early in the lifetime of this Government. The Deputy will be aware that where a person obtains tenancy through a local authority, under RAS or otherwise, he or she is often asked by that local authority, including the one in Dublin city, to sign up to the household budgeting system via An Post and is happy to do so. However, as referred to by the Deputy, having signed up to pay the rent on a weekly or monthly basis through the budgeting system of the Post Office, which is a good facility and is a good use of the services of the post office, people often sign off without any reference to the local authority.

Many members will previously have been members of a local authority and will be aware of the large build up of arrears down through the years in some local authorities. Deputy Ó Snodaigh and I have on a previous occasion discussed what happens when people get into rent arrears, in particular with a large local authority such as that in Dublin. This often leads to very difficult situations for families and women, who often manage payment of the rent. This provision provides that when a person is offered a tenancy he or she must agree to sign up to the household budgeting system and can only sign off from it with the agreement of the local authority. The purpose of this is to reduce the risk of large arrears being built up, which is a reasonable objective. Deputy Ó Snodaigh will be aware that where people build up large arrears this can lead to other problems in the family, particularly for women who are managing on tight budgets. It often leads to the situation whereby because the family is in arrears it is not entitled to be considered for transfer to larger accommodation as the family grows. I recall that I discussed this matter with Deputy Ó Snodaigh on a previous occasion.

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